Shakespeare must have had a nice butt.
This is the thought that runs through my mind during a 200-mile cycling journey from Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon to London, where his plays were produced and where three theatre houses bear his name. Forget whether or not he’s “relatable” (a conversation drummed up by Ira Glass earlier this year), pay no attention to the umpteenth ultra-special-24-karat-gold-embossed edition of his works, or that this year marks the 450th anniversary of the great playwright’s birth. All I could imagine was that if he consistently made the trip now known as Shakespeare’s Way, he definitely possessed some great glutes. Never mind that he may have traveled the long, beautiful path by horse rather than my mode of transportation, a sleek hybrid bike that would look as unfamiliar to the man of letters as an iPhone 6. Let’s assume both horse and hybrid provide similar workouts.
Throughout the five-day journey arranged through The Carter Company, which organizes cycling and walking tours through Europe, I went from being terrified to hop on the bike to being sorry to part with it. Beginning in London and ending in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Shakespeare’s Way itinerary mimics the path the Bard may have taken and celebrates the countryside that surely inspired his works, along the way hitting high points that are more elusive to a visitor not on two wheels. My trip takes the reverse path, and I begin by assessing the depth of my Shakespeare knowledge in his birthplace. It was paltry. I had no real sense of the man himself, except for a college lecture by a renowned Shakespearean scholar that’s rattled around my brain for years. “Shakespeare,” said Professor Watson, “wrote a story for each of us and in them we can hear what we want.”